Cullinan School’s Journey towards Strong Leadership, Community Engagement and Learner Impact

Cullinan School’s Journey towards Strong Leadership, Community Engagement and Learner Impact
Selaki Masenya, former principal of Chipa-Tibane Comprehensive High School in Cullinan

Ahead of Mandela Day, Selaki Masenya, former principal of Chipa-Tibane Comprehensive High School in Cullinan, Tshwane, reflects on the milestones achieved and challenges overcome during his tenure. Masenya’s journey, guided by the Leaders for Education programme offered by Citizen Leader Lab, has paved the way for Chipa-Tibane to fulfill its commitment to providing a quality education to its almost 2,000 learners. His experience on the 12-month leadership development programme remains vivid and transformative.

Leadership First

The Leaders for Education programme is designed to improve the confidence, competence and leadership skills of participating principals by pairing public school principals with private sector leaders. Research shows that school principals are pivotal in setting the school’s vision, ensuring academic excellence, creating a positive learning environment and building relationships with stakeholders.

For Masenya, the programme inspired a paradigm shift in his leadership style and the way he interacted with his staff and the broader school community. “Before the programme, I confronted dissenters head-on. My approach changed; I engaged constructively, transforming potential adversaries into valuable contributors,” he mentions.

School meetings were restructured to prioritise inclusivity. After attending the Time to Think* workshop, a formal component of the Leaders for Education programme, Masenya began to apply what he had learned. “We embraced diversity and ensured everyone felt at ease. This new meeting format encouraged open dialogue and honoured every voice,” he recalls.

Building Community

Empowering and capacitating principals allows them to strengthen ties with the school’s stakeholders and mobilise parents and the community around the school. In this respect, Masenya felt that improving the school’s digital communication channels would achieve just that. “The first step was revamping our outdated school website. It made vital information accessible to parents, learners and the community,” says Masenya. Additionally, the introduction of bulk SMS messaging became a “game-changer” in the way the school communicated with parents, strengthening the bond between home and school.

The principal’s commitment to building community was further fuelled by encounters during the programme, notably with author Charlie Petersen. “Petersen’s book, Boy Child, You Are Not Alone, inspired me to launch an initiative for boys without parental figures,” he explains. This involved distributing copies of the book and organising weekend activities to offer companionship and mentorship.

A drive to honour the unsung heroes of the community, the elderly caregivers affectionately known as Gogos, also brought the school and community closer together. “We welcomed them, formed a supportive group and celebrated their tireless efforts,’’ Masenya shares.

School Management Teams (SMTs): The Next Layer of Leaders

In 2023, a pioneering cohort of SMT leaders from selected secondary schools in Tshwane embarked on a School Management Team Leadership Programme (SMTP) pilot by Citizen Leader Lab, where they had the opportunity to partake in peer-to-peer learning, coaching and workshops that not only developed their own leadership skills but also improved their schools. Enrolling members of his SMT in the programme was a strategic decision for Masenya. He attributes the tangible changes he saw in his SMT, such as the launch of a vibrant newsletter spearheaded by the team, as well as a noticeable reduction in conflict, better work ethic and a more collaborative and positive working environment, to the programme.

Boosting Teacher Morale and Uplifting Learners

The practice of showing gratitude became a daily part of Masenya’s interactions with his teachers, creating a “surge in teacher morale,” which initiated the teacher-led revival of Chip-Tabane’s once-dormant library. This momentum continued after Masenya left the school. Over 90% of the teachers volunteered their time despite limited funds for extra lessons this year.

Masenya and his staff addressed issues like substance abuse, teen pregnancies and ill-discipline. A concerted effort to empower Chipa-Tabane’s Representative Council of Learners ensured the learners were equipped with leadership skills and given a say in issues that directly affect them. “The programme’s impact is evident in our learners’ behaviour, attitude and performance. This sets our school apart from others,” he says.

Impact that Endures

Citizen Leader Lab “opened doors” and exposed Masenya to opportunities he would not have ordinarily encountered. In 2023, he was nominated for the National Teachers Awards by his deputy principal and went on to be named the top principal in Gauteng for Secondary School Management, eventually competing at a national level. Although Masenya now serves at the school district level, he emphasises that the impact of his leadership development journey extends far beyond his own achievements.

“The programme enriched my journey as a principal, but most importantly, it improved our school. I am no longer at the school, but I feel I have left a lasting legacy of positive change that is evident in the day-to-day operations of Chipa-Tibane and the broader school culture. The acting principal, a participant of the programme, continues to lead effectively,’’ says Masenya.

*Based on Nancy Kline’s Time to Think book, the workshop emphasises the importance of creating a thinking environment for better communication and decision-making. It provides practical tools and techniques for unlocking the full potential of individuals and teams.